The Sunday Edition

Karin Wells's "In the Presence of a Spoon" wins Open Broadcast Feature award at CAJ

Twenty-four years ago, Margo Bentley wrote an advance directive to say that if she could no longer recognize her family, she wanted to be allowed to die. She now lives in a semi-vegetative state in a British Columbia care facility and hasn't recognized her family in a decade. But because she still opens her mouth in the presence of a spoon, she is kept alive at the instructions of the court.
Left: Margot Bentley as a young nurse. Right: Margot Bentley today. (Credit: Katherine Hammond)

Suicide notes are seldom uplifting but always revealing. In the last year several of these goodbye letters, as they are now sometimes called, have mentioned Margot Bentley. "I don't want to end up like her," they say.

Margot Bentley thought she had it all worked out. Twenty-four years ago, she wrote an advance directive in which she said explicitly — if she got to the point where she couldn't recognize her family, "let me die; no antibiotics, no resuscitation, no food or water." The document was signed and witnessed. Her family was on side. What more could she do?

Bentley is now 84. She hasn't recognized her family in a decade. She lives in a semi-vegetative state in a house run by the Fraser Health Authority, a government agency in Abbotsford, B.C.

She was diagnosed with dementia 17 years ago, but she lingers on and — most importantly —  she opens her mouth when caregivers prod her with a spoon. Four years ago her daughter, Katherine Hammond, went to court and asked that her mother's wishes be carried out.

The court said no.

When the Supreme Court of Canada approved the principle of physician-assisted death in Canada in February 2015, there was a sense in the country that a major hurdle had been overcome. We were on our way to determining our own deaths — if we wanted. The court handed things over to government to work out the details.

But as we all know, the devil is in the details.

And as we have seen just in the last week, the "details" around assisted dying are still politically explosive.

Karin Wells's documentary, "In the Presence of a Spoon," first aired last June. This weekend, it was honoured as the Best Broadcast Feature of 2015 by the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Duncan McCue, Karin Wells, Nick Purdon, Diana Swain, Natalie Clancy and Margaret Evans were among the CBC News journalists who took home CAJ awards on Saturday night. (Brodie Fenlon/CBC)

Karin is an award-winning producer at The Sunday Edition.

Her documentary work has been varied and internationally recognized. Trained as a lawyer, she has produced documentaries on subjects as diverse as post-conflict resolution in Mozambique and the rehabilitation of jihadi fighters in Denmark, to opera in the English countryside. She has reported from more than 50 countries over the course of her career, citing the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia as the coldest and the deserts of Eritrea as the hottest!

Karin's work has been frequently recognized by the New York Radio Festivals. She has received two United Nations media awards; one for her work out of Sierra Leone, and in 2013, for her documentary on dealing with dementia in Denmark.

In 2011, Karin Wells was inducted into the University of Ottawa Common Law Honour society.
Karin Wells

Click the button above to hear "In the Presence of a Spoon."


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